Witnesses ID three in Iraq detainee deaths
August 27, 2008
VILSECK, Germany — At least four Iraqis detained by soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade during a patrol in April 2007 were killed, but none of the four Germany-based U.S. soldiers charged last month in the incident pulled the trigger, according to witnesses who testified at an Article 32 hearing Tuesday in Vilseck.
During some seven hours of sworn testimony, soldiers who were on the patrol suggested that the four soldiers charged with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder — Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, Sgt. Charles Quigley, Spc. Stephen Ribordy and Spc. Belmor Ramos — had either minor roles or no role at all in the deaths, but may have been involved in the alleged cover-up.
The soldiers who pulled the triggers, according to Sgt. Daniel Evoy, were 1st Sgt. John Hatley, who he called a beloved company first sergeant; Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mayo, the company’s master gunner; and Sgt. Michael Leahy, a medic.
Evoy was the only witness questioned so far who saw the shootings. He testified that the patrol detained four Iraqis, returned to their combat outpost to drop off a disabled vehicle, and then left again, driving to a nearby canal. Once there, the Iraqis, who had been blindfolded and handcuffed and transported in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle, were made to get on their knees.
Evoy said that when Hatley and Mayo told him they were going to shoot the detainees, he didn’t believe they meant it.
But as he watched the three men from his Bradley, he saw Leahy shoot one of the Iraqis with his handgun, and heard other shots, then dropped down into his vehicle in disbelief, he said.
"It all happened in mere seconds,” he said.
The first two witnesses to testify in the proceedings — Evoy and Spc. Joshua Hartson — said they’d kept quiet mostly out of fear for what might happen to them if they disobeyed Hatley’s order that they not talk about what happened to the detainees. A third witness, Spc. Humberto Navarro, said he didn’t say anything because he didn’t think the soldiers should get in trouble for shooting the detainees.
Evoy said that after the shootings, the patrol returned to the combat outpost and Hatley grabbed everyone up and told them not to talk about what happened.
All the soldiers on the patrol were members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, when the incident took place.
Cunningham, Quigley, Ribordy and Ramos are the only soldiers charged so far in the case. The investigation, however, is ongoing, according to officials.
Ribordy and Ramos both waived their right to an Article 32 hearing before Tuesday’s proceedings and were in the process of negotiating pleas, according to an Army attorney.
The detainees’ deaths appear to have been kept a secret by members of the patrol for some eight months. Cunningham’s civilian defense counsel, attorney James Culp, said his client was the first person to come forward about the incident.
In January, Criminal Investigation Command investigators began questioning members of the unit about the incident, and by then many of those involved had moved on to other assignments.
The Article 32 hearing is scheduled to resume Wednesday.